Aerial tracking strengthens fire prevention

In the 10 months following the Woolsey fire, Southern California Edison remains Southern California’s whipping boy, a wounded company caught in the crosshairs of an angry public still seething over SCE’s purported role in starting the horrific fire.

Already facing a bevy of lawsuits charging that it failed to keep equipment and infrastructure properly maintained, Edison was sued again two weeks ago by the Conejo Recreation and Park District. The CRPD suit echoed previous complaints that the fire could have been prevented had Edison taken better care of the high-voltage transmission lines and other equipment at its Simi Valley field station where the Woolsey fire was believed to have started. Los Angeles County leveled a similar charge in its April 2019 suit.

Compelled to act not only by the Woolsey fire but by a previous spate of fires in 2017, Edison followed a directive by the state and began taking major steps toward preventing future problems.

As part of its so-called wildfire mitigation plan, SCE power poles and utility lines were fortified, and high-definition cameras were installed in fire-prone areas to keep an eye on potentially dangerous conditions. Tree branches have been trimmed to keep them out of harm’s way, and when weather factors signal fire, Edison says it won’t hesitate to pull the plug on the power to homes and businesses.

Edison’s most recent plan of action is to increase the existing helicopter inspection flights in communities where fires could start. Using high-tech cameras mounted on the aircraft, pilots are able to keep a bird’seye view on poles and wires that might be at risk. With the data from the flights, potentially dangerous flaws in the area’s electrical system can be dealt with in a timely manner.

For the next several weeks, residents in Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo and Simi Valley will see the choppers hovering overhead. The flights will serve as an extra layer of protection to supplement the standard lineman inspections already being performed.

“ We have always done overhead inspections, but our focus has changed,” SCE air operations manager Craig Stenberg said. “This effort is the same, but on steroids.”

Approximately 30,000 structures were labeled for priority inspection in SCE’s 50,000-square-mile service area. The company’s goal is to complete the aerial checks by the end of this year.

The plan isn’t without danger. In 2006, a company helicopter became tangled in the power lines above Somis and resulted in a crash that cost the lives of two employees.

If the low helicopters make you nervous, please don’t be. Big Brother is monitoring our cities more closely so that what happened in last year’s tragic fire doesn’t occur again.

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